From bad to worse. Christmas cancelled, the new tier 4 lockdown, a mutant virus and now more than 40 countries banning Brits I’m desperate for something positive. Thankfully I’ve found it in today in an unlikely place, today is the winter solstice, our shortest day and longest night.
I’ve always liked the fact that the year’s lowest point comes so soon in the winter. From today the only way is up. As we all know, daylight hours grow shorter and shorter as the winter solstice approaches, and begin to slowly lengthen afterward.
Today we get less than eight hours daylight, just a third of the entire day. We get more than twice that amount on June 21st, roll on summer.
The seeming death of the light weighed heavily on early societies, who held varied solstice celebrations and rites meant to herald the return of the sun and hope for new life.
Scandinavian and Germanic pagans lit fires and may have burned Yule Logs as a symbolic means of welcoming back the light. Cattle and other animals were slaughtered around midwinter, followed by feasting on what was the last fresh meat for several months.
The modern Druidic celebration Alban Arthan reveres the death of the Old Sun and birth of the New Sun. Fascinatingly Stonehenge is perfectly aligned to the sunset on the winter solstice with the primary axis of the monument oriented to the setting sun.
Some have theorised that the position of the sun was of religious significance to the people who built Stonehenge, while other theories hold that the monument is constructed along natural features that happen to align with it.
The purpose of Stonehenge is still subject to debate, but its importance on the winter solstice continues into the modern era, as thousands of hippies, pagans, and other types of enthusiasts gather there every year to celebrate the occasion.
Some thought the world would end today, eight years ago – it didn’t! December 21, 2012, corresponds to the date 126.96.36.199.0 in the Mesoamerican Long Count calendar used by the ancient Maya, marking the end of a 5126-year cycle.
This is a special day for all sorts of other reasons with a number of significant firsts for humanity. The Pilgrims arrived in America on December 21, 1620, to found a society that would allow them to worship freely. On the same day in 1898, Pierre and Marie Curie discovered radium ushering in an atomic age. And on December 21, 1968, the Apollo 8 spacecraft launched, became the first human space mission to reach another astronomical object, namely the Moon.
Talking of space, tonight sees a very rare astrological event, something that hasn’t occurred since the Middle Ages, planets Saturn and Jupiter are set to align, appearing to almost kiss each other in a dazzling display.
Some experts suggest this celestial phenomenon could be the star that kings Melchior, Caspar and Balthazar are said to have followed over 2,000 years ago.
The story is told in the Gospel of Matthew. In his account, the wise men arrive in Jerusalem and say to King Herod: “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising and have come to pay him homage.”
So on this special end of the world seeming day, after a year of plague and pestilence, the Star of Bethlehem is due to make a reappearance. I’m not religious but I have to say after this year I’d welcome a bit of celestial guidance.